PwC offers model for medal success in Sochi

Russia, a massive country with plenty of snow and ice to go around, didn’t perform as well as it would have hoped at the 2010 Winter Olympics – just three gold medals and 15 medals total.

In the current edition of the Winter Olympics, econometric modelling by PwC says, Russia will finish third in overall medals – in part because the Russians are on familiar turf. Russia’s turn as host runs through the men’s hockey gold medal game on February 23rd.

PwC, in a recent report, lists home advantage as one of the factors that helps countries shine on the international sports stage. It has proved to be a factor in recent Olympic medal projections and actual results.

Management accountants are increasingly being called upon to apply this type of modelling to business decision-making, mixing the power of analytics with a critical human element.

PwC’s predictive analysis is not on an event-by-event breakdown of the top contenders in Sochi, Russia. PwC says the following factors have been found to be statistically significant for the number of medals won at previous Winter Olympics:

Whether the country is the host: This played a role in Canada’s success in Vancouver in 2010, and it also was a factor in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, as Team GB exceeded expectations with 65 medals. PwC’s projection for 2012: 54 medals.

High level of snow coverage: Countries such as Canada and Norway have done well. Makes sense, as children there grow up on skates and skis.

High number of ski resorts per capita: Austria, long a successful nation in Winter Olympics, has a world-best 23 ski resorts per million residents, according to PwC.

High income levels: In general, countries with colder climates have higher income levels. Also, a greater investment is required to break into some winter sports, such as skiing, PwC writes.

Large population: This is a factor in which income levels can outweigh pure numbers of people, and one in which Norway bucks the trend. Norway has more medals in the Winter Olympics than any other country, but its population is about 5 million, more than 60 times smaller than the US.

Recent “form” in the Winter Olympics: PwC writes that “if a country has a recent competitive advantage, it is likely to persist over the short term – particularly if the medal-winning athletes in question are still competing.” A recent example: The US medal totals in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics were buoyed by the presence of Michael Phelps, the swimmer who won 18 gold medals and 22 overall.

Tradition of winter sport success: Advantage, Norway, where sports such as biathlon and cross-country skiing are popular.
All the modelling in the world can lead to more informed forecasts, PwC says, but it can’t take the place of the human element. PwC writes that medal totals “will be determined by the performances of individual athletes.”

PwC takes a top-down approach, looking at macro factors, while others project through analysis of the athletes themselves.

Projections, in that sense, are like snowflakes: Each one is different.

Neil Amato ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.

PwC medal projections

PwC has estimated medal totals for countries competing in the Summer Olympics since 2000. This year, PwC is applying similar modelling techniques to project medals for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Top 10

  • US: 35
  • Germany: 26
  • Russia: 25
  • Canada: 23
  • Austria: 22
  • Norway: 21
  • China: 15
  • Switzerland: 10
  • Sweden: 10
  • South Korea: 9
  • France: 9